The European Union as an environmental actor in the neighborhood

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The European Union as an environmental actor in the neighborhood


​​​​​​​Figure 1: Compliance in the EU’s Neighborhood by policy area (average score for ENP countries, 2006-2016). Source: Shyrokykh & Rimkutė (2019)

Author: Karina Shyrokykh, September 2019

Story highlights:

  • The EU engages in environmental cooperation with Eastern European "neighborhood countries" more extensively than commonly thought.
  • Yet, we know little about the impact of this coopeartion on national climate policies.
  • Future research is needed investigating the EU-neighborhood climate linkages across countries, issues, and over time.

In EU relations with its neighboring countries, environmental cooperation is often seen by scholars as secondary when compared to cooperation in other policy. However, a recent study suggests that environmental cooperation between EU member states and European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) countries is actually among the most developed in comparison to other policy areas. This finding is based on unique and new data on the intensity of trans-governmental public administration cooperation. 

Clearly, this highly developed environmental cooperation does not only reflect the EU’s environmental policy objectives in the Neighborhood, but also demonstrates the engagement of the neighbors in technocratic cooperation in environmental affairs. Indeed, neighbors’ compliance in this policy domain is the highest in comparison to other policy areas (see Figure 1).

There is variation across countries both in terms of trans-governmental environmental cooperation intensity and cooperation foci. In some countries, the emphasis is on water management, while in others, climate change and adaptation are more center stage. This begs the question of what factors can explain these cross-country and cross-policy differences. And can such trans-governmental networks trigger any positive change in the actual practices of the beneficiary countries? 

Existing research on the effects of cross-border public administration networks on the subsequent practices shows that these effects are largely context-dependent. Networks’ effects are affected by policy areas and domestic factors, among which EU membership aspirations. In addition, involvement of other EU actors play a crucial role.  For example, a special role in defining the effects of public administration networks on the subsequent practices is played by EU agencies. In particular, in the policy area of environment, involvement of the European Environmental Agency (EEA) stimulates increased trans-governmental cooperation between the EU and the ENP countries. Involvement of EU agencies creates a robust co‐operation structure, on the basis of which tighter trans-governmental environmental co‐operation evolves.

Although generalist technocratic networks supported by the EU address issues of climate change mitigation and adaptation, more recent trans-governmental cooperation formats that explicitly focus on climate issues emerged, i.e., Clima-East and Clima-South. The latter are designed respectively for the Eastern Partnership and South Mediterranean regions. Clima-East and Clima-South assist the neighbouring regions in developing approaches to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as help implement the UNDP objectives and develop climate policies, strategies and mechanisms by supporting regional cooperation and providing access to EU climate policies, laws and expertise. 

Given the explicit focus of Clima-East and Clima-Southon climate risks, we can expect these to be effective in triggering the corresponding policy and behavioral change in the ENP region. At the same time, similarly to the generic cross-border technocratic networks, cooperation intensity within Clima-East and Clima-Southvaries across countries and policy areas. Thus, these cross-policy and cross-country differences in intensity of cooperation merit further research, as do the ways in which new cooperation formats are effective in promoting climate adaptation and mitigation policies in the European neighbourhood.


Lisa Dellmuth, project leader

Maria-Therese Gustafsson

In cooperation with